Septic Tank Guide for Home Buyers

Septic Tank Information for Home BuyersRural properties and many fixer-upper homes tend to have septic tanks. Home buyers who want to purchase rural property for the first time must learn about septic tanks, including what they are, how they function, what's required in order to maintain a septic tank and how to avoid purchasing a home with a bad septic tank. Here's what you need to know.

What Is A Septic Tank?

A septic tank is an underground tank that holds waste water from a structure. Septic tanks can be found near residential homes and near commercial buildings. Septic tanks usually hold thousands of gallons of water at a time. In residential homes, the size of the septic tank corresponds to the number of bedrooms in the home. The more bedrooms in the home, the bigger the tank must be.

A septic tank must be appropriately sized for the home. A septic tank that is too small for a home will fill quickly and must be pumped often in order to remain functional.

How Do Septic Tanks Work?

Any time someone in the home flushes waste water down the drain, whether that's in the kitchen sink or in the bathroom, that water enters the septic tank. Inside the tank, waste water settles into layers.

At the bottom of the tank is a layer of solids comprised of human waste, lint, food particles and other solids that are flushed down the drain. At the top of the tank is a layer of oily scum, often consisting of cooking oil and grease.

In the middle of the tank is the water. When the water reaches the drain midway up the top of the tank, it drains into a part of the yard called the drain field. As it flows down into the soil, the soil filters the bacteria out of the water until it becomes clean.

What Causes a Septic Tank to Clog?

Septic tanks clog when solids flow into the drain field instead of settling at the bottom of the tank. When this happens, water builds up inside the tank and eventually backs up into the house. Signs of an imminent septic clog include:

  • Gurgling noises in the tank.
  • Slow drainage in the lowest drains of the house.
  • Sewage smell in the yard.

How is a Septic Tank Different from a Sewer?

A sewer is a conduit that runs beneath the ground and connects the homes in a community. Waste water flows from the homes to the waste water treatment center via the sewer. Sewers are publicly owned and serviced by local utilities. Septic tanks are privately owned, privately maintained and typically only service one structure at a time.

What Needs to Be Done to Maintain a Septic Tank?

Septic tanks need to be pumped on a regular basis. Most septic tanks need to be pumped every several years. If the septic tank is too small for the house, it may need to be pumped every year or every other year.

In addition, homeowners must prevent things from going down the drains that could cause the septic tank to malfunction. According to the sustainable living guide Antonia Ko, only water and human waste and toilet paper can be flushed down a drain into a septic tank. Anything that is antibacterial (like bleach) or anything made of a solid material (like a disposable wipe) should never be flushed into the tank.

How Can You Be Sure the Home You Want to Buy Has a Good Septic Tank?

If you're a Cameron Station home buyer who is thinking about buying a home with a septic tank, have the tank inspected before you make your purchase. Your home inspector can tell you whether or not the tank is in good condition.

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